Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Not Measuring Up!

So, your homework for next week:
At least 3 sketches for a 7x9 illustration (horizontal or vertical) based on the text.
At least 3 sketches for an approximate 3x3 spot illustraton based on the text. The spot should use whitespace in an interesting way-- don't just make a little rectangle or square.
Remember, the magazine is for older kids-- 12ish-- so keep illustrations playful or humorous. They can be still be in a realistic style, or stylized, whatever you want to work with.
Blog assignment--since I forgot to mention it in class, you guys are off the hook this week! Use your extra time wisely! Let's see some good sketches!

John Hendrix is the amazing watercolor artist I introduced in class with his book & illustration of the Internet. His blog is fantastic (he often shows his preliminary sketches), and you can see the rest of his work on his website.

image copyright John Hendrix. Recognize this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Here's the full text of the "Not Measuring Up" article-- get ready to scrolllll downnnnn:

Not Measuring Up
by Burkhard Bilger

When Vincent van Gogh was 31 years old, in the fall of 1883, he traveled to northern Holland and stayed at a tavern in the village of Stuifzand. When I visited the old tavern, which is now a private home, I was shown the tiny alcove where the painter probably slept. “It looks like it would fit only a child,” J. W. Drukker, the current owner, told me. Then he and his wife, Joke (pronounced “Yoh-keh”), led me down the hall, to a sequence of pencil marks on a doorjamb. “My son, he is two meters,” Joke told me, pointing to the topmost mark, six and a half feet from the floor. Joke herself is six feet one. Drukker is six feet two.

A Land of Giants
The Netherlands, as any European can tell you, has become a land of giants. In a century’s time, the Dutch have gone from being among the smallest people in Europe to the largest in the world. The men now average six feet one—seven inches taller than in van Gogh’s day—and the women five feet eight. Throughout the country, ceilings have had to be lifted, furniture redesigned, lintels raised to keep foreheads from smacking them. Many hotels now offer bed extensions, and ambulances on occasion must keep their back doors open, to allow for patients’ legs. “We will not go through the ceiling,” pediatrician Hans van Wieringen assured me. “But it is possible that we will grow another ten centimeters.”
Walking along the Dutch canals, I had an odd sensation of drowning—not because the crowds were so thick but because I couldn’t lift my head above them. I’m five feet ten and a half—about an inch taller than the average in the United States—but, like most men I know, I tend to round the number up. Tall men, studies have shown, benefit from a significant bias. They get married sooner, get promoted quicker, and earn higher wages. According to one study, the average six-foot worker earns $160,000 more, over a 30-year period, than his five-feet-five-inch counterpart—about $800 more per inch per year. Short men are unlucky in politics (only 5 of 44 American presidents have been shorter than average) and unluckier in love. A survey of some 6,000 adolescents in the 1960s showed that the tallest boys were the first to get dates.
Over the past 30 years, a new breed of “anthropometric historians” has tracked how populations around the world have changed in stature. Anthropometric history suggests that height is a kind of biological shorthand: a code for all the factors that make up a society’s well-being. Height variations within a population are largely genetic, but height variations between populations are mostly environmental. In other words, if Joe is taller than Jack, it’s probably because his parents are taller. But if the average Norwegian is taller than the average Nigerian, it’s because Norwegians live healthier lives. That’s why the United Nations now uses height to monitor nutrition in developing countries. In our height lies the tale of our birth and upbringing, of our social class, daily diet, and health-care coverage. In our height lies our history.

Mythical Abundance
I first heard of anthropometric history from John Komlos, a professor at the University of Munich. For 20 years, he has rummaged through archives on both sides of the Atlantic, gathering hundreds of thousands of height records in search of trends that others may have missed.
Komlos stands five inches shy of six feet, and he blames much of the gap on history. His parents were Hungarian Jews who lived in Budapest during the Second World War. In 1944, when his mother was pregnant with him, the Nazis took control of the city. After Komlos was born, there was little food, and he cried incessantly. The Hungarian Communists took over the city in 1948, but Komlos’s diet improved only slightly. In 1956, the family fled to America.
Biologists say that we achieve our stature in three spurts: the first in infancy, the second between the ages of six and eight, the last in adolescence. Any decent diet can send us sprouting at these ages, but take away any one of 45 or 50 essential nutrients and the body stops growing. (“Iodine deficiency alone can knock off ten centimeters and fifteen I.Q. points,” one nutritionist told me.)
When an adolescent Komlos and his parents arrived in Chicago, in the winter of 1956, America was a land of almost mythical abundance. For more than two centuries, its people had been so healthy and so prosperous that they towered above the rest of the world—about four inches above the Dutch, for example, for most of the 19th century. To Komlos, raised on the black bread and thin broth of Communist Hungary, Chicago’s all-you-can-eat restaurants were astonishing. But he found the restaurants not nearly as impressive as the giants who fed there.
Komlos now knows that he arrived in America at a pivotal point in its history. Over the next 50 years, by economic measures, the country remained the richest in the world. But by another set of numbers—longevity (lifespan) and income inequality (the gap between rich and poor)—it began to lag behind Northern Europe and Japan.

A U-Shaped Curve
For centuries, governments have kept careful records of their soldiers’ heights. (Records for women are much scarcer, but they tend to follow the same trends.) This allows us to picture generations of soldiers, row on row, from today’s cadets back to Union soldiers, Revolutionary War soldiers, and beyond.
If you were to stretch a string from the head of the earliest soldier in that row to the head of the most recent recruit, you might expect it to trace an ascending line. We like to imagine that every generation is smarter, sleeker, and taller than the last. Yet in Northern Europe over the past 1,200 years, human stature has followed a U-shaped curve: from a high around 800 AD, to a low sometime in the 17th century, and back up again. Charlemagne was well over six feet; the soldiers who stormed the Bastille a thousand years later averaged five feet and weighed a hundred pounds. “They looked like 13-year-old girls,” the economist Robert Fogel told me.
Fogel, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1993, is the man most responsible for Komlos’s interest in height. In the fall of 1982, Fogel gave a lecture on stature at the University of Chicago, and Komlos attended. Most historians at that time, if they thought about height at all, tended to assume that it was tied to income. The more money people earn, the better they eat; the better they eat, the taller they grow.
Fogel explained that it wasn’t that simple. In the 1970s, he and Stanley Engerman had studied the history of American slavery and found that slaves, although cruelly and inhumanely treated, were well fed because their owners wanted to get the most work possible out of them. Fogel’s graduate student Richard Steckel went through records of 50,000 slaves to find their heights. The results were startling: adult slaves, Steckel found, were nearly as tall as free whites, and three to five inches taller than the average Africans of the time. (Although the adult slaves were clearly well fed, the children, who weren’t old enough to work, were extremely small and malnourished.)
Fogel realized that height records offered a new angle on history, and they were readily available. “There are millions of these data lying around and nobody is looking at them,” Fogel suggested at the lecture. All that was needed was researchers to gather them up.
Anthropometric history was largely a field of two in those years: Steckel and Komlos, with other graduate students conducting studies here and there and Fogel orchestrating from the wings. Steckel enlisted anthropologists to gather bone measurements dating back 10,000 years. In both Europe and the Americas, he discovered, humans grew shorter as their cities grew larger. The more people clustered together, the more pest-ridden and poorly fed they became. Heights also fell in synch with global temperatures, which reached a low point during the 17th century.
While Steckel worked backward in time, Komlos worked forward, tracing American and European heights from the 17th century on. At the University of Vienna, he tabulated the heights of 140,000 Austrian soldiers and their children. At the National Archives in Washington, he studied 4,180 West Point graduates. For 13 years, he gathered and analyzed the heights of 38,000 French soldiers from the late 1700s.

Failing to Rise
“See this?” Komlos said one afternoon, sliding a sheet of paper toward me. “This one graph took me nine years.”
The graph in question showed the heights of American slaves, servants, soldiers, and apprentices in the early 1700s. To produce it, Komlos searched through Colonial newspapers for descriptions of runaways and deserters, until he had gathered 10,742 heights. (“You can drown in these data,” he said.) When Komlos had gathered enough heights, he averaged them out and plotted them on this graph.
The immediate point was clear: America was a good place to live in the 18th century. Game was abundant, land free for the clearing, settlement sparse enough to prevent epidemics. On Komlos’s graph, even the runaway slaves are five feet eight, and white colonists are five feet nine—a full three inches taller than the average European of the time. “So this is the 18th century,” Komlos said. “This is not problematic. It shows that Americans are well nourished. Terrific.” He reached into a cardboard folder and pulled out another series of graphs. “What is problematic is what comes next.”
Around the time of the Civil War, Americans’ heights predictably decreased. By the end of the 19th century, however, the country was rebounding. The economy was expanding at a dramatic rate, and public-hygiene campaigns were sweeping the cities clean at last.
Then something strange happened. While heights in Europe continued to climb, Komlos said, “the U.S. just went flat.” In World War I, the average American soldier was still two inches taller than the average German. But sometime around 1955 the situation began to reverse. The Germans and other Europeans went on to grow an extra two centimeters a decade, and some Asian populations several times more, yet Americans haven’t grown taller in 50 years. By now, even the Japanese—once the shortest industrialized people on Earth—have nearly caught up with us, and Northern Europeans are three inches taller and rising.
The average American man is only five feet nine and a half—less than an inch taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier. Women, meanwhile, seem to be getting smaller. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, women born in the late 1950s and early 1960s average just under five feet five. Those born a decade later are a third of an inch shorter.
Just in case I still thought this a trivial trend, Komlos put a final bar graph in front of me. It was entitled “Life Expectancy 2000.” Compared with people in 36 other industrialized countries, it showed, Americans rank 28th in average life span—just above the Irish (the Japanese top the rankings). “Ask yourself this,” Komlos said. “What is the difference between Western Europe and the U.S. that would work in this direction? It’s not income, since Americans, at least on paper, have been wealthier for more than a century. So what is it?”
The obvious answer would seem to be immigration. The more Mexicans and Chinese there are in the United States, the shorter the American population becomes. But Komlos’s height statistics include only native-born Americans who speak English at home, and he is careful to screen out people of Asian and Hispanic descent.
In the 19th century, when Americans were the tallest people in the world, the country took in floods of immigrants. And those Europeans, too, were small compared with native-born Americans. Malnourishment in a mother can cause a child not to grow as tall as it would otherwise. But after three generations or so the immigrants catch up.
Around the world, well-fed children differ in height by less than half an inch. In a few, rare cases, an entire people may share the same growth disorder. African Pygmies, for instance, produce too few growth hormones and the proteins that bind them to tissues, so they can’t break five feet even on the best of diets. By and large, though, any population can grow as tall as any other.
This last point may sound counterintuitive. Height, like skin color, seems to vary with geography: we think of squat Peruvians, slender Kenyans, stocky Inuit, and lanky Brazilians. Animals in cold climates tend to have larger bodies and shorter limbs than those in warm climates. But though climate still shapes musk oxen and giraffes—and a willowy Inuit is hard to find—its effect on industrialized people has almost disappeared. Swedes, who live in a cold climate, ought to be short and stocky, yet they’ve had good clothing and shelter for so long that they’re some of the tallest people in the world. Mexicans ought to be tall and slender. Yet they’re so often stunted by poor diet and diseases that we assume they were born to be small.
After immigrating, the Mexican-American population has transformed. Since the 1920s, the median height of Mexican-American teenagers has nearly reached the United States’ norm. It’s that norm, and not the immigrants, that has failed to rise.

The Riddle
If there is an answer to the riddle of American height, it probably lies in Holland, where everyone has a theory about stature. When I spoke to Hans van Wieringen, the pediatrician, he credited his people’s growth to free medical care for children. Others pointed to the landscape (flatlanders are naturally tall, they said, just as mountain people are naturally short) or to the Dutch love of milk (a study in Bavaria found a direct correlation between height and the number of cows per capita). The Dutch are taller than the Italians, one man suggested, because they go to bed at a reasonable hour.
The most convincing argument was one made by J. W. Drukker, the owner of the old inn at Stuifzand where van Gogh had stayed. Drukker is a professor of economic history, and he has made his own study of Dutch height. In the late 1970s, he and two research assistants gathered information on the heights of Dutch soldiers from 1800 to 1950, then plotted them on a graph. The results were striking.
Holland’s growth spurt began only in the mid-1800s, Drukker found, when its first liberal democracy was established. Before 1850, the country grew rich off its colonies, but the wealth stayed in the hands of the wealthy, and the average citizen shrank. After 1850, height and income suddenly fell into perfect synch: when incomes went up, heights went up (after a predictable lag time), and always to the same degree. “I thought I must have made an error,” Drukker said. He hadn’t. Holland, like the rest of Northern Europe, had simply managed to spread its wealth around. These days, Dutch heights no longer keep pace with the economy. (“We can’t grow to four meters just because our income quadruples,” Drukker says.) But the essential equation is the same: when Holland’s wealth grows, everyone grows.
As America’s rich and poor drift further apart, its growth curve may be headed in the opposite direction, Komlos and others say. The more than fourteen million Americans without a job (a number that’s increasing all the time, due to the current economic recession) are surely having trouble measuring up. And they’re not alone. As more and more Americans turn to a fast-food diet, its effects may be creeping up the social ladder, so that even the wealthy are growing wider rather than taller.
Steckel has found that Americans lose the most height to Northern Europeans in infancy and adolescence, which points to children’s medical care and teenage eating habits. “If these snack foods are crowding out fruits and vegetables, then we may not be getting the micronutrients we need,” he says. In a recent British study, one group of schoolchildren was given hamburgers, French fries, and other familiar lunch foods; the other was fed 1940s-style wartime rations such as boiled cabbage and corned beef. Within eight weeks, the children on the rations were both taller and slimmer than the ones on a regular diet.
Inequality may be at the root of America’s height problem, but it’s too soon to be certain. Recently, Komlos has scoured his data for people who’ve bucked the national trend. He has subdivided the country’s heights by race, sex, income, and education. He has looked at whites alone, at blacks alone, at the most educated people, and at the wealthiest people. Somewhere in the United States, he thinks, there must be a group that’s growing taller.
He has yet to find one.

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